lorraine humm

May Women's Watch

Lorraine Humm - Maidstone United Raiders

Each month, the Kent FA is spotlighting a different female volunteer making a positive impact on football in the county. This month, friend of Kent FA Faye Hackwell chatted to Lorraine Humm about the growth of disability football.

"If they haven't had a home in football before, they have a home when they come to us because we accept everybody."

That 'home' Lorraine Humm is referring to is Kent’s biggest disability football club, Maidstone United Raiders, which has 20 teams catering for adults and children with a range of disabilities and mental health difficulties. 

The club has grown from four to 20 teams since Lorraine has become involved and, as a player on one of the ladies’ disability sides herself, growing and nurturing those teams is a huge passion of hers. 

Now in her early-50s, Lorraine wears several hats within football – she's Head of Disability at the Raiders, which falls under Maidstone United’s Stones Community Trust, and she’s also Vice-Chair of the trust itself, an Kent FA Council member and a qualified coach and referee. 

Those roles have seen her act as everything from secretary and fundraiser to manager and welfare officer – but football hasn’t always been an accessible sport for Lorraine. 

As a child, her first experience of football was spending her weekends at Dunton Green Football Club, near Sevenoaks.

"I was constantly told football wasn't for girls.  

"My nan was the secretary, my mum did the teas and coffees, my uncle was the chairman and my cousins all used to come down and watch, so it was a bit of a family affair. 

"When I was very little, my nan and a few ladies ran a ladies’ football team and they used to train in secret because the men didn't like them playing. 

"I’m 52 and when I started becoming interested in football, there weren't opportunities for me to play. 

"It wasn't until I spoke to my PE teacher and said ‘I want to play football’ and he had to get permission from the headmaster for me to play."

lorraine humm

Lorraine finally got the chance to play for a women’s team when she was 18 and a few years later, she trained to become a coach and referee - coaching Wild Cats girls’ football and managing girls’ teams from eight to 16 years at Paddock Wood Football Club. 

She also developed a drive to increase opportunities for disabled players of all ages and, through courses she completed with the Kent Football Association, she met coaches from Maidstone United who shared her vision for growing disability football in the area.

As a Stones supporter from the age of 15, Lorraine knew she had found the right place to dedicate her time and passion and took over the club’s disability section. 

She renamed the teams after precious metals and stones, such as 'The Diamonds' and 'The Sapphires', because 'they are all precious because they are my players.' 

Geographical locations offering disability football have increased significantly in recent years, but when Lorraine first started at the Raiders, her players travelled from as far afield as Swale, Sevenoaks and Chatham to take part. 

As new disability clubs have formed around Kent, Lorraine has seen some players leave to join teams closer to their homes, and she feels proud to have helped to instigate their journeys in football. 

"Our goal is to bring people into football who don't have a team and then hopefully progress them on. 

"This may mean they eventually go back into mainstream football after they have progressed on their own personal journeys and that's what it's all about - some of our players have gone on to be coaches or referees. 

"I've got players who have played for me for 20 years and are still with me – there aren’t many clubs that can say that."

Maidstone United Raiders play in the Kent Disability League, with teams at under-11s, under-13s, under-16s and adults. 

"We're the only club in Kent to have two full adult ladies’ teams. 

"Some other teams have maybe got one or two women, whereas we've got two full ladies’ teams and I play in one of them. 

"There are very few women playing disability football and growing that is a mission of mine."

Ten years ago, at the age of 42, Lorraine was diagnosed with dyslexia. 

Playing disability football herself has made her even more determined to make women's football accessible to all.

lorraine humm

In their first season playing as a ladies’ disability team, Lorraine’s side made the semi-final of the FA People’s Cup at England’s training complex, St George’s Park, and their under-16s disability side won their section’s trophy on the same day. 

"We went from us playing to watching them win the final, so it was quite a memorable day, and then they got to go to Wembley and pick their cup up."

Despite priceless moments like these, Lorraine has faced several challenges along the way – the biggest being finding and retaining volunteers to enable the disability section to keep up with demand. 

"There's still a stigma around disability football and sometimes when people come in, they're a bit frightened of saying the wrong thing and things like that. 

"But once they come in and actually volunteer with us, they love it and they realise how rewarding it is to see a player who can't engage, who doesn't share, suddenly do their first pass to somebody else, or score their first goal, or do link-up play. 

"We’ve had players who have taken six weeks to get onto the pitch because of their anxiety, but we haven't rushed them.  

"We've just let them do whatever they need to do and everyone is accepted. 

"If they haven't had a home in football before, they have a home when they come to us because we accept everybody and we look out for them, so it's a safe environment. 

"We're like a family and the parents all make friends and form networks. 

"We see the changes, the improvements, the social skills, what it's done for them and how it's progressed them on when they've left us, and they've gone on to get a job or whatever it might be."

Lorraine would love to see more disability teams being formed across Kent, offering more disabled players the opportunity to enjoy football and giving her teams more opposition to play against. 

She is also passionate about encouraging other women to give disability football a go and her two ladies’ teams have a wide range of experience, ages and disabilities. 

"There are still a lot of women who are not diagnosed, or are cautious about the stigma of having a disability, or who leave a mainstream team because they don't feel they fit in. 

"They could come and join us and find a home where they'll be fully accepted."

lorraine humm

The recent 2023/24 football season has been Lorraine’s 'best ever' because Maidstone United men’s first team’s historic run to the FA Cup Fifth Round brought magic and excitement for everyone involved in the club. 

Her disability teams were there to witness Maidstone’s 2-1 giant-killing at Ipswich Town and many of the other games on their unprecedented run to the last-16, and Lorraine threw herself into doing television interviews and capitalising on the moment to promote the club and everything it does for the community. 

"Those magic moments, how we've seen our players progress and the memories football has given me are what drive me.

"It’s the drive from when I was a kid and was told ‘you can't play football, you can't do this, you can't do that’, and when people tell me I can't do something, it's like a red flag and I'm going to prove them wrong. 

"I don't want anyone to feel like I did when I was little.

"I love seeing people get an opportunity, enjoying football, making friends, having fun, being included and progressing."

To find out more about Maidstone United Raiders, visit mufcraiders.co.uk